Biometric database helps U.S. track Iraqis, Afghans
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 17, 2007
HOHENFELS, Germany — The U.S. military is compiling a biometric database of Iraqis and Afghans that officials say has already borne fruit in the war on terrorism.
Many details of the database are classified, but according to Joint Multinational Readiness Center strategic planner Arnie Geisler, who helps train U.S. troops in Germany, it is being compiled by soldiers using equipment that scans an individual’s retina and fingerprints and takes a digital photograph of his or her face.
The equipment takes four measurements of each face and converts them into a biometric algorithm, which is stored in the database along with the retina scan, fingerprints and the person’s name and address, he said.
“It will show you if there is a match for someone who is wanted in the system,” Geisler said.
The database has already proved its worth in identifying suspects, he said.
“Units downrange are experiencing some pretty good success using biometrics. In one instance, they found a partial fingerprint on the remains of a [roadside bomb]. They made a match in the database and went and arrested the individual whose fingerprint was on the [bomb],” he said.
The JMRC’s operations group commander, Col. Tom Vandal, said coalition forces are using biometrics extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We got it from the FBI. It helps you identify individuals who are wanted or suspected of terrorist activity. The FBI has used it as a tool for detecting criminal activity, but it has an application for us in the military,” he explained.
Vandal said soldiers add people to the database when they pass through entry control points, when they are detained or if they work on a coalition facility. Inputting the data and confirming it takes two to five minutes depending on the proficiency of the soldier using the equipment, he said.
The number of Iraqi and Afghan individuals in the database is classified, he added.
JMRC is the only U.S. Combat Training Center that has integrated biometrics into mission rehearsal exercises that prepare units for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, Vandal said.
It first incorporated biometrics into training during a mission rehearsal for the Iraq-bound 12th Combat Aviation Brigade and Afghanistan-bound 173rd Airborne Brigade in April. Biometrics also were used during training for the Iraq-bound 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Brigade this month, Vandal said.
Units deploying from the U.S. get biometric training in Kuwait, but U.S.-based Combat Training Centers also are preparing to incorporate biometrics in their exercises, he said.
Geisler said biometrics are the cutting edge of military training.
“I don’t think a lot of nations are using biometric scenarios in training. We do individual biometric training here because it is so new. They are training soldiers on the latest biometric technology almost as soon as it comes out and it is available to the units,” he said.
JMRC’s biometric training was showcased to coalition partners from Europe, Canada and Australia at a conference in Hohenfels last week. The goal of the conference was for combat training centers from the various nations to compare best practice for training troops in the war on terrorism, Geisler said
The conference was the first of its kind, but there already are plans for follow-up conferences in Britain next year and Germany the following year, Vandal said.